For the Sake of Democracy, Scholars Must Return to Past Practices

Cape Times (South Africa), April 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

For the Sake of Democracy, Scholars Must Return to Past Practices


In today's article in our series, SaleEm Badat, vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, argues that South African universities cannot be reduced to instruments of the economy.

Intellectuals, public officials, business and civil society leaders and political commentators have complained about the lack of "visibility" of our universities.

For some this is about the unresponsiveness of universities in addressing the myriad economic and social development challenges the country faces. It is certainly true that universities should advance the public good, and should use science and scholarship to contribute to economic and social progress, thereby making a difference to the lives of South Africa's people.

But negative comments on the contribution of universities to economic and social development are open to challenge. For one thing, critics are often poorly informed: unwarranted generalisations cloud judgements about the quality of research and teaching at most of our universities. For another, unrealistic expectations often hold out the hope that universities can transform society. Societal transformation demands political will, the force of a developmental state, and interventions in all areas of society. Faced with this, universities can only contribute to social transformation.

Often, negative views follow from a desire to redefine the role of the university. It is wrong and dangerous to force universities to serve purely utilitarian ends and to seek to reduce them to instruments of the economy, the labour market and skills production alone. The responsiveness of universities cannot only be economic in character; it has to be of a wider intellectual and social character.

While for some the "visibility" of universities is about their responsiveness, for others it is about whether universities are engaging sufficiently and critically with vital social questions of the day and are adequately serving as catalysts of public intellectual debate.

Prior to 1994, some universities were sites of critical scholarship on crucial aspects of South African society: disinterested, critical and rigorous, yet socially committed scholarship spanned various disciplines including history, sociology, psychology, political studies, anthropology, philosophy, gender studies and education. Very often this work connected with the national liberation movements, mass organisations, workers and rural poor; it also found expression in popular publications.

Of course this scholarship was neither officially encouraged, nor promoted. It was also not mission-driven: indeed, some critical scholars were often denied academic posts, subjected to repression, and had no opportunity to foster public debate through the mass media. Some, like Rick Turner and David Webster, lost their lives.

Today a constitutional democracy and an admirable Bill of Rights protects free speech and yet, curiously, there is a dearth of critical and engaged scholarship.

The truth is this: if we are to protect our freedoms and so deepen our democracy, scholars must return to their past practice.

Rigorous scholarship - whether it identifies wholly or in part with the social goals of the government, the state, political parties or other key social actors - must freely interrogate the thinking, priorities and policies of all these actors.

The late Harold Wolpe once wrote "neither the theory nor the analysis ... can ever be regarded as settled". So the goals of our society and the means to their achievement are never settled. It is the task of critical scholarship to investigate the theoretical foundations, and the empirical analyses that define the direction the country has taken. This work could well show that today's conventional wisdoms (and their associated policies) rest on shaky foundations, with possibly profound social consequences.

Wolpe also wrote that critical scholarship must treat the priorities and policies of political parties not "as conclusions but as starting points for investigation". …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

For the Sake of Democracy, Scholars Must Return to Past Practices
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.